The Pros and Cons of the Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone (Photo credit: Trevor Blake)

One of the common themes that comes up in the books I read is the idea of “the comfort zone.”  Brett and Alex Harris consistently encourage teens step outside of their comfort zones in order to grow and accomplish big things.  On the other hand, Marcus Buckingham says that it’s a myth to think that people need to step out of their comfort zones in order to grow.  Instead, he encourages people to push themselves within the bounds of their individual comfort zones.  So which is it?  Is the comfort zone a limiting device we use to hold ourselves back, or indication of our innate talents and abilities?

 As our culture does these days, when I decided to write this post, I looked up the phrase “comfort zone” on Wikipedia.  Here’s the opening sentence:

“The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.”  

Brett and Alex encourage teens to take the risks that come from stepping out of the comfort zone, despite the sense of anxiety that may come with it.  But Marcus says our strengths come from those areas where we can deliver near-perfect performance 100% of the time, which means that’s where we should focus our time, instead of trying to step out and away from it.  So who’s right?  Well, when I look at the respective audiences for each of these authors, the answer is both.

Think about it.  Marcus is talking to professional adults.  Even more specifically, he’s talking to business managers.  He wants managers and companies to play to the strengths of each individual employee.  The sense of “the comfort zone” is where each employee can deliver near-perfect performance on a consistent basis – so it makes sense that’s where they should focus!  On the other hand, Brett and Alex are talking to teens who are still in the middle of adolescence and all the questioning and identity explorations that go with it.  They need to try new things, explore the options, and take on big tasks in order to develop their sense of responsibility and ability.  As they go through that process, they learn where their talents lie and can use that knowledge as they enter adult life.

For many teens, their comfort zone is still pretty limited, and unfortunately, schools aren’t doing a very good job of helping them explore their areas of strength and consistent, talented performance.  In his book Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham does point out this problem.

“This is probably what school should be like: a focused hunt for a child’s areas of greatest potential.  This is probably what work should be like: an intentional effort to find out how each employee might approach world-class performance levels.  Unfortunately, neither school nor work seems up to the task.  Both are so preoccupied with transferring knowledge and plugging skill gaps that developing awareness of natural talents is disregarded,  And so the burden falls on you, the individual.  You must lead the search for your own talents.” (p.32)

The thing is, I think teens can take on this individual burden just as well as professional adults.  I think they can explore their talents and unique gifts.  They just need to take the risks inherent with the search.  In that way, it is important for them to step out of their comfort zones.  Once they find those areas in which they thrive – and every teen has an area where they can thrive – that should help direct their career paths as they enter adulthood.

So for any teens reading this – start exploring!  If your schools, guidance counselors, and teachers are not stepping up to the task of helping you find the comfort zone of your strengths, the burden falls to you.  Take your future in your hands and launch yourself into your future!

I leave you with these important assertions from the concept of Strengths Finding:

1. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique.

2.  Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.

Oh yeah — and have fun!


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